After their disappointing first-round exit at the 2006 World Cup, the Japanese are motivated to again shock the world, like they did in their home country in 2002.
Team: The Blue Samurai
Colors: Blue and white
In 2002, Cup host Japan shocked the world by advancing to the second round. Fast forward to 2010, when the Blue Samurai are picked to finish last in their group.
There’s definitely some talent on the Blue Samurai bench—they’ve got goal scoring forwards and disciplined defensemen. The only downside is that most of the players are part of home leagues in Japan, which don’t begin to compare to the pace and physical play of the European leagues.
Size is another factor. The Japanese are lacking, and that will be problematic on set pieces and crosses. But Japan will find a way to dazzle with their ball skills and determination. The team has nothing to lose, and, like true Samurais, they will fight to the finish.
Key Players: Shunsuke Nakamura, Yasuhito Endo and Yuji Nakazawa
Nakamura, revered as a living-legend in the Japanese soccer community, has lost a step, but he can still set up players with beautiful crosses and set piece deliverance.
Endo, the ’09 Asian Player of the Year, will provide flair on the field with his ball skills; he has the ability to make defenders look silly and possibly break their ankles.
Captain and center back Nakazawa is Japan’s main player. For Japan to be competitive, they’ll have to keep the ball out of the net, and Nakazawa will need to control his three partners in defense to stop the high-powered offenses in Group E.
Key Matchup: Japan vs. Cameroon
This is the only game where Japan matches up well against their opponent. The two teams have similar styles of play and both can produce a bit of flair at the right moment. The opening match will be exciting. If the Samurai catch the Lions sleeping, they’ll steal some early goals.
Although the Blue Samurai have established themselves as a top team in Asia, they are no match for the stronger European teams. They could finish last in Group E and get an early ticket home.
Related link: World Cup 2010 Countdown